Advice · Novels · Writing

How to Review a Book in 4 Easy Steps

What’s a writer’s best friend? Reviews. But I hear the same question from readers all the time: how the heck do I write one?

Reviews are an important part of any book’s life. Their main function is to let other people know whether it’s worth buying or not. How many times have we picked up something in a book shop only to be disappointed by the quality? Online reviews help readers find something they’ll enjoy, as well as weed out poorly-written and edited works.

But there’s more to it than that. Reviews are how books live or die: literally. The algorithms of most online retailers rely on books getting a certain number of reviews before they’re included in promotions and newsletters. As soon as a book hits an arbitrary number—sources say between thirty and fifty—it gets a visibility boost that allows more people to discover it.

Until that number is reached? A book is on its own.

This is why authors don’t just encourage reviews, we beg and plead and whine and cajole for them. But so often, what we hear back is: “what do you want us to say?”

Let’s take a moment and be honest with ourselves. What we want you to say is, “This the most amazing book in the world and to support this claim I wrote a five page essay detailing every wonderful thing I loved about it. Buy a copy for every member of your family, including the dog, and then an extra box so you can fling this book at deserving strangers. Five stars only because Amazon doesn’t allow twenty. ALL HAIL THE AUTHOR.”

(…You did ask what we wanted.)

Obviously you’re not going to write that. So what should you write instead?

Here are four easy steps to writing a helpful review for any book, with helpful examples.

Say how much you liked it.

Top ten ever? Best so far this year? Enjoyed it but didn’t stay up all night to finish? Thought it was a pleasant way to pass time, but not amazing? Hate-read the ending and frothed at the mouth?

Devote a sentence to whether you liked the book, and a second to why.

“I couldn’t put Bus Driver from Heck down and read it in the bath. I really wanted to see whether all the characters would get eaten or not.”

Say what stood out.

Did you see the setting clearly in your mind’s eye? Was the dialogue really funny? Did you fall in love with one of the characters?

Basically, what makes this book this book, and not some other book?

“The bus turning out to be made on the site of an old white person’s graveyard was a detail I’d never seen before. The gory descriptions had me laughing out loud from page one.”

Say whether the book met your expectations.

When you started reading, what did you believe the book would be about? Did that turn out to be the case? Had it changed any of your thoughts in the meantime? Were you shocked by any of the twists or developments?

“This looked like a straight horror book, but also was sort of a commentary on the way commuting eats into our lives. In this case, literally. Personally, I loved the ending, even though I saw it coming.”

Say who you think will like the book.

Did it remind you of any particular authors, or have similar themes to a popular TV show? If it had any graphic content, did you feel suitably warned beforehand? Did the book feel niche, or does it have broad appeal?

“This is a gory book, with plenty of bus-eat-human action. Fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre will probably enjoy this book. I know my grandma did. 4.5 out of 5 to Bus Driver from Heck.”

Ta-dah! Your review is done.

But what if the book was bad? I don’t want to hurt the author by posting a bad review.

No author likes hearing someone didn’t like their book, but we also understand that not every book is for every person. If you think a book had problems, by all means, say so. State whether it’s a case of the book not being for you, or if you found its flaws to be in the plot, structure, or editing. If there was something good, mention it too, but if you didn’t like a book, hey, you didn’t like it. Your viewpoint is valid.

All we ask is that you critique the work rather than shred it. There’s no need to call a book monkey poo, or resort to personal insults. Remember, the idea is to let others know you were disappointed, not drive the author to suicide.

Authors want honest reviews. Honest reviews help books to find the right readers, readers who will enjoy our work and want to read more of it. Every book isn’t for every person, but every book does have a person, somewhere, who will adore it. Your reviews will help make that happen.

Yes, even the fictional Bus Driver from Heck. There’s a lid for every pot.

Did this guide help you out? Is there anything else you’d like to add? Tips? Advice? Do you have your own method of writing reviews that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it! Comment below with your thoughts, or give me a shout on my Facebook page!

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to come back Wednesday for the third and final preview of What Boys Are Made Of before its final release on March 15th! You can read the first two chapters here.

See you then!

11 thoughts on “How to Review a Book in 4 Easy Steps

  1. Adding: be succinct! You don’t have to give away every detail about the characters, theme, setting, etc. When I see a review that’s more than a few paragraphs long, I don’t read it, whether it’s 5 stars or 1.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea it was so important to actually post a review. I mean I rave about books to family and friends, and I recommend books all the time to my students, but I never post official reviews. I wish more people knew about this! How are we supposed to support our favourite authors, especially the little ones, if we have no idea what they need us to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I myself am horribly guilty about not posting Amazon reviews, even though I know better. Those are the most powerful, but really, they all matter. Word of mouth is the number one promo any book will ever get–seriously. Reviews are just helpful for getting the word out to a diverse audience. Plus, promos on Amazon.

      It’s really a bit crazy how “behind a veil” most of publishing is, to the point where the general public has no idea that most authors don’t even earn minimum wage for their efforts. I know I had no idea about any of this until I started researching this sort of thing like crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly? That was me as a reader, what helps me. What I as an author want my reviews to say is “best book ever!” 😉 What I as a reader want to know is what makes this book like and unlike other books to help see whether it will interest me or not. Like a prescreening. There’s nothing more disappointing than buying a book only to realize it’s not your thing.


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